The pandemic is shining a light on how African Americans are suffering and how their health needs have been ignored.
Due to health disparities and a lack of access to health care, African Americans are being hit hard by COVID-19, said Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez.
“COVID-19 overwhelmingly affects the poor living in G20 nations, including the U.S.,” Hotez wrote in a statement to Reform Austin Wednesday. He has a new book on the subject, “Poverty and the Impact of COVID-19: The Blue-Marble Health Approach.”
Hotez lists these risks for the coronavirus:
1. Crowding in low-income neighborhoods.
2. Lack of access to testing and health care.
3. Lack of access to innovations including new COVID-19 treatments.
4. Lack of access to public health communications.
5. High rates of underlying health conditions, “including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity.”
“These factors explain the high mortality among African American, Hispanic and Native American populations,” Hotez said. “Unless we prioritize these vulnerabilities, people of color will be disproportionately affected and will die from COVID-19.”
Genetic factors may also be a reason African Americans are being hit harder.
Renã Robinson, a professor of chemistry who researches chronic disease at Vanderbilt University told NPR in April that “there have been a few studies that have pointed to African Americans potentially having genetic risk factors that make them more salt-sensitive.” This could be a contributing factor for African Americans being more vulnerable to COVID-19. Salt sensitivity increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, which, in turn, may be linked to developing more serious cases of COVID-19.
Another issue is how stress affects immunity.
“Studies have proved that stress has a physiological effect on the body’s ability to defend itself against disease. Income inequality, discrimination, violence and institutional racism contribute to chronic stress in people of color that can wear down immunity, making them more vulnerable to infectious disease,” said Dr. Sherita Golden, a specialist in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, and chief diversity officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
At the core of why a disproportionate number of African Americans have COVID cases are the barriers to quality health care for all.
STAT reported that health disparities go way beyond being vulnerable for COVID-19.
“Black people are more likely than white people to die from cancer. They are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, diabetes, and depression. Black children report higher levels of stress. Black mothers are more likely to die in childbirth,” the article states.
“While COVID-19 can affect anyone, the data clearly indicates minorities are suffering the most severe consequences when they get sick. This is likely due to the historically disproportionate rate of chronic health conditions experienced by minority populations,” said Dr. David Persse, director of the Houston Health Department.